I recently read a story of an 11 year old boy in England who was bullied so incessantly at school that his parents decided to withdraw him from school and homeschool him. His schoolmates called him “nut boy” and threw nuts at him. Do you find this hard to believe? Are kids so cruel and un-empathetic? The answer, unfortunately, is yes.
I remember when my daughter was first diagnosed with a nut allergy a few years ago. I made calls to people I knew and people I didn’t to get all the information I could on allergies and how to handle them. I won’t forget how shocked I was when a father told me of his daughter’s allergy. Though, to my relief, she had never had an anaphylactic reaction or the need to use an Epipen, she had been bullied because of her allergy.
When some girls her age found out that she was allergic to nuts, they had brought some to lunch and dared her to eat them, making fun of her when she didn’t. The dad got involved and the matter was quickly resolved. That’s a happy ending. So how do we teach our children to handle this? It’s bad enough to deal with a food allergy when you have the support of your peers, imagine when they use it against you.
I’m no expert on the matter of child psychology, but I think like with anything, education and strength is your ally. It may be beneficial to send in a book to your child’s class and have the teacher read it to the class, discussing allergies and the dangers of them. Or see if the Health teacher or school nurse can do a unit on allergies, without drawing unwanted attention to your child.
It also is probably a good idea to not focus on the allergy, though it is important for your child to be aware of it and know how to talk about it, and defend himself if necessary. In other words, at the age where bullying begins, your child can take care of his allergy with more subtle means. And if it becomes a problem, get involved. Go to the teacher, the administration, counselor or other parents. Don’t let it get out of hand. As your child sees you standing up, so will he. Very importantly, teach your child not to succumb to it. Don’t eat nuts on a dare, don’t drink milk because someone called you a name, and don’t put yourself in danger because of someone else.
We can find strength in the things that we struggle with. Maybe your child’s allergy will help him find the strength others may not have. Above all else, assure your child that an allergy does not make him “weird” or “out of place.” It’s just something he has, just like all the differences that make us important in the world.
Unfortunately bullying exists, and those that bully are looking for someone weaker to pick on. Teach your child strength and confidence. And teach kindness, it’s bound to rub off on the others.
- Heather Legg